Apr 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Exclusive: McCain interviewed in new Ken Burns film on Hemingway

Mike Allen

John McCain, just before his death in 2018, did an interview for Ken Burns’ upcoming PBS film about Ernest Hemingway, in which the senator talks about "For Whom The Bell Tolls" and his hero, Robert Jordan.

The big picture: "Hemingway" — a three-part, six-hour documentary film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick — examines the visionary work and turbulent life of Ernest Hemingway, one of America's iconic writers.

Hemingway archival photo
Archival photo from "Hemingway," courtesy PBS

From "Hemingway" ... John McCain: "I was 12 years old. I found a four-leaf clover and I [pressed] it in a book so I could preserve it. ... That happened to be 'For Whom the Bell Tolls,' still the great American novel. And I started reading and I couldn’t stop until I finished."

  • Narrator: The story — published in 1940, with Europe and Asia engulfed in a world war — "is set in 1937, when the defeat of Franco’s fascist forces had still seemed possible. Its hero is an idealistic young American college instructor named Robert Jordan, with some knowledge of explosives and no political affiliation other than hatred of fascism, who finds himself part of a guerrilla band that undertakes a doomed mission to dynamite a bridge."

McCain: "My hero is Robert Jordan. Robert Jordan is as real to me as you are. He was working as a professor in the University of Montana. ... But he heard about this struggle. He knew about fascism. He knew what Hitler and Mussolini were doing."

  • "And he decided to go and fight on behalf of people he had never met and he did not know. Even knowing that that cause was a flawed cause. ... But he was willing to fight and do whatever he thought he could for the cause of justice and freedom. I always wanted to be Robert Jordan."

Go deeper: Watch trailers, preview videos. Premieres on PBS stations starting Monday at 8 p.m. ET, and will stream free. TV schedule.

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